The Perilous Gard
Elizabeth Marie Pope
When her younger sister Alicia angers Queen Mary, Kate Sutton has to bear the brunt of the Queen’s anger. She is dismissed from her place as lady-in-waiting to Princess Elizabeth and exiled to a remote castle called the Perilous Gard, in the keeping of Sir Geoffrey Heron. As Kate explores the castle, she meets Christopher Heron, Geoffrey’s brother, who blames himself for the death of Geoffrey’s daughter Cecily. But she also finds there is a mystery about the castle’s Holy Well and Those who rule over it, which may have to something to do with Cecily’s loss.
There is so much that I love about this book. Kate is a spirited and level-headed heroine with a streak of insecurity that makes her even more sympathetic. Christopher is honorable and guilt-ridden without drowning in self-pity, and he has dreams that are all the more touching for being ordinary. There are ballads, and there is a mad harper, and there are the Fairy Folk, who are both less magical and far more alien than they are usually portrayed. There are heroic sacrifices and true love, and there is a theological debate with the Queen of the Fairy. I really could not love this book any more.
Morally, The Perilous Gard is quite good. The religious elements are not as deep or explicit as in some other novels, but Kate and Christopher both view the world through the perspective of their faith. When Christopher first tells Kate his story, her reaction to his guilt is refreshingly unclichéd–and Christian.
“How can you tell what I meant to do? How can I? How can anyone? I think the damned souls in hell must spend half their time wondering what it was that they really meant to do.”
“If you think the damned in hell spend their time doing that, then you can’t know very much about the damned in hell,” Kate retorted furiously. “I am utterly at squares with this childish dealing. Why in the name of heaven don’t you go down to the village and make a proper confession to the priest and let him tell you what pennance you ought to be laying on yourself? You aren’t one of the damned in hell. We’re all of us under the Mercy.”
There’s also Kate’s argument with the Queen of Fairy, which I won’t spoil; I’ll only say, when is the last time that you read a book where a character could put forth an accurate definition of eternity?
Content-wise, this book has nothing that a twelve-year-old couldn’t handle, but it’s definitely complex enough to be compelling reading for adults.